Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Noir: Assassins Stalking Truth

Noir, an anime series that ran in 2001, begs for comparison with the American live-action extravaganza The Boondock Saints. Both series and movie use large amounts of violence to talk about Catholic and moral themes. But while The Boondock Saints cheerfully opined that what this society really needs is a few more crusaders and warrior saints on a mission from God, Noir seems to doubt that even killing in self-defense is entirely moral. (Yes, it's that perennial Japanese staple -- a pacifist show with a high body count!)

Mireille Bouquet is a reliable assassin-for-hire who lives in Paris and works under the nom du guerre "Noir". She is emailed by schoolgirl Kirika Yumura, who asks Mireille to go on "a pilgrimage to the past with me." Kirika can remember nothing before she found herself in an empty house with a gun and a musical pocketwatch -- and the urge to contact Mireille. When both are attacked, Kirika demonstrates that she is frighteningly proficient with that gun. After much consideration, Mireille decides that she will help Kirika to find the truth about both of them, and the shadowy organization now after them both. But she warns the girl that noone who knows Noir's real name can be allowed to live. Kirika says that she looks forward to being killed.

(For those of you who aren't anime fans, Japanese shows really do tend to have a high percentage of suicidal characters. I don't really remember seeing anyone commit suicide onscreen, but there are a lot of folks who find peace only through conveniently being forced to go out in a blaze of glory while opposing unbeatable forces. However, Kirika is unusually upfront about not minding death, and without the usual gung-ho justifications. Still, the pattern remains; to convince a Japanese audience that a character is really serious, the character seems to have to be openly ready to die.)(Or really old and smarter than that.)

So Noir becomes two people -- the "maidens with black hands who protect the peace" of the introduction. Shadowy forces keep setting traps for them while Mireille tries to keep her business going.

There are a lot of anime shows which include a bit of Catholic flavor here and there: the orphanages run by a priest and a nun in Cyborg 009 and Cowboy Bebop, the priest who gets monster-fied in Sailor Moon, the odd church wedding, and so on. But this is the most Catholicism I've seen in a series since St. Tail or Ten Pound Gospel -- and both of those were set in Catholic parishes.

The flavor starts with the opening song, "Coppelia's Casket". Coppelia, the windup android heroine of the eponymous ballet (and,as Olympie, of the opera Tales of Hoffman) is dead and nobody mourns for her. She is juxtaposed to "the Lamb on the altar". The song goes on to talk about the dark modern city, in which the POV character of the song "cannot meet you". The singer calls on "God the Savior", warns that people are dolls who are tired of dancing for the rulers of this world, and asks how this clockwork dream will end.

The Catholic theme is continued in a Latin chant set to a techno beat, "Salva Nos". This is used as the background music for many action scenes. As you can see below, it's a duet (thus representing Mireille and Kirika) that is a sort of symbolic prayer for the women's safety and requiem for their victims.

In the second episode, we see a police officer's interment in a churchyard, with three priests in attendance as well as many of his fellow police. One character hopes that they will catch the killer; the other says that he will also pray for it. This character turns out to be saying this hypocritically. Perhaps it's not surprising that the episode doesn't turn out well for him.

This episode is called "Daily Bread", and in it we see Mireille and Kirika bringing home and eating a long loaf of it. Mireille admonishes Kirika for not taking more open pleasure in her "daily bread -- God's blessing". But at the end of the episode, Kirika points out that their daily bread is killing people. Despite the fact that their targets in this episode were terrorists and a traitor, Kirika takes no pleasure in it.

The third episode begins in a cemetery, as Mireille visits a grave only to find another mourner already there. This episode again presents the assassins with deserving targets, but Mireille finds herself forced to kill another assassin who is a kindred spirit. They agree that people like them should never visit graveyards, because the dead call them, and that they will never be buried in a named grave. But defiantly, Mireille brings flowers to the assassin at the cemetery, even though the assassin isn't actually buried there.

The fourth episode goes overseas. Noir's target is a man whose corporation arranges coups. This certainly seems like a worthy cause. But Mireille and Kirika are forced to confront the fact that evil men are people, too, when his friendly daughter comes to spend her birthday with her workaholic dad.

In the fifth episode, the symbolism really hits as Mireille and Kirika confront their shadowy enemies at St. Galen's Church. A friend of Mireille, now dead, leaves information for her among the bones in the crypt. They capture an enemy trying to steal the information. Mireille ends up confronting him alone inside the candle-lit church. He taunts her by saying she can't kill him without losing what he knows, but Mireille kills him anyway. (Thereby deconsecrating the church. Bad Mireille!) The information turns out to be a vaguely Gnostic-sounding medieval prophecy which reveals the name of their enemies' organization.

The sixth episode is perhaps the most morally problematic one. Noir is hired, by members of a minority ethnic group, to assassinate a KGB man who did his best to commit genocide. But Yuri Nazarov disappeared from the KGB years ago, and has spent his time since then living in poverty and feeding everyone around him who is poor. Mireille says that it seems he's trying to atone, but the victims obviously don't think it's enough since they want him dead. Kirika adopts a lost kitten and finds, to her consternation, that it's Nazarov's. (And named "Prince Myshkin".) Nazarov collapses and Kirika saves him. She is filled with guilt and returns to Nazarov's house to try to kill him, but the house is full of grateful people. She returns to the hotel room, where Mireille figures out Nazarov's reasons for the killing and offers to let him off, especially since he's old and will die soon anyway. But Kirika insists on killing him, and does, despite the cat's accusing gaze. Nazarov does not resist.

This is essentially an episode about a genocidal killer who becomes a saint and dies a martyr's death. This is clearly good for him but not so good for our heroines, who now have a saint's blood on their black hands. I really don't understand why Kirika went ahead and killed him, unless it was an attempt to feel sad about doing it, or because she envied him and the kitten for having names and known pasts. The episode as a whole does seem to be an argument that if you don't kill killers, some will repent and change their ways.

The next episode is pure action set in a beautifully drawn Middle Eastern country. A dying imam declares to evil revolutionaries that Noir, in killing their leader, acted as a servant of God. But the main question is whether or not Mireille will kill or leave behind the severely wounded Kirika. Mireille passes this test, and both are airlifted to freedom as Mireille concludes that they are bound together by Fate. (Not love or friendship or respect, of course. Suuuuuure, Mireille.)

The eighth and ninth episodes are a story about the Mafia princess called the Intoccabile. Of course we visit a church. But as three mafiosi "with saints' names" swear fealty to her while we hear a choir sing "Of the Father's Love Begotten" in Latin, it was startling to me to see her standing in front of a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel. (Anime studios often seem to use their artists' travel photos to get really authentic location shots.) We also meet a priest when the Intoccabile visits a church in Sicily. He is persuaded to share what he knows when the Intoccabile reminds him that God loves truth. But the final battle between Mireille and the Intoccabile takes place in the ruins of a pagan temple and ends appropriately for someone who lived by fear.

It is hard to tell what the rest of the show will be like. The shadowy enemy does seem to be some sort of bizarre little Gnostic sect with Illuminati-like ambitions. I'm certainly okay with that. But I'm uncomfortable with Mireille and Kirika being simultaneously presented as angels of death and creepy sinners, and I'd like to be more certain that the show won't end in some sort of murder/suicide or Gnostic power fantasy. *sigh*

It's a good show, but definitely not recommended for kids too young to have their brains twisted. Violence with classical music and thought behind it is still violence.

Fixed It

Nihil Obstat noticed a link which had achieved some very interesting rot. I just gave up and removed the link entirely, since the news story seems to have left the Web. I left the quote, though.

Noir lyrics: "Salva Nos" by Kajiura Yuki

Noir is a very odd anime about a pair of female assassins fighting a shadowy organization. For some reason, Catholic imagery and music is thick on the ground. (I'll post the details later.) One major example is the song "Salva Nos", which is used as incidental music during the show -- usually when someone is being killed, or when the protagonists are trying to avoid getting killed. It's chant to a strong techno beat. (For folks who like their chant straight, there's a brief moment in one episode when a choir sings the Latin version of "By the Father's Love Begotten".)

I don't normally post other people's lyrics, but I have two reasons for doing so in this case. First, every version I've seen on the Internet is wrong about the words and their meaning. Second, the lyrics are about as far into the public domain as possible, being taken from the old Requiem Mass. (Which of course means the choice and arrangement of those lyrics, and their connection to the music, is the copyrighted bit.) It's pretty clear bits o' Latin were grabbed out wholesale.... Anyway, the part in English (and italics) is my translation.

Dominus Deus,
Lord God,
Exaudi nos et miserere.
Listen to us and have mercy.
Exaudi, Dominus.
Listen, Lord.

Dona nobis pacem
Grant us peace
Et salva nos a hostibus.
And save us from the enemy.
Salva nos, Deus.
Save us, God.

The above verses are repeated twice; then the following two verses are sung simultaneously.

High voice sings in counterpoint:
Dominus, exaudi nos.
Lord, listen to us.
Dominus, miserere.
Lord, have mercy.
Dona nobis pacem.
Grant us peace.
Sanctus -- Gloria --
Holy -- Glory --

Low voice sings in counterpoint:
Dona nobis pacem,
Grant us peace,
Et dona eis requiem,
And grant them rest,
Inter oves locum.
A place among the sheep.
Voca me cum benedictis.
Call me along with the blessed.
Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem.
Merciful Jesus, Lord, grant them rest.
Dominus Deus -- Sanctus -- Gloria.
Lord God -- Holy -- Glory.

The first two verses are repeated again.

The "holy -- glory" bits don't make much sense to me; it seems like the songwriter was just grabbing words there. But "inter oves locum" and "voca me cum benedictis" are quotes from the "Dies Irae". Very interesting. Definitely catchy, and the polyphonic verse is beautiful. But then, the Noir soundtrack is an exceptionally good one all around.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Anime Christmas Episodes: Cyborg 009

I'm probably going to have to do an ongoing series on anime Christmas episodes. They're always interesting. Is it a totally secular or Shinto/Buddhist person's reflection on a Christian holiday, or a Christian trying to tell a story that will touch the heart of a Shinto or Buddhist person? You never know.

Cyborg 009, currently airing on Cartoon Network, is an anime based on a very old, very famous comics ('manga') series from the sixties. (Ex-Manga and this manga listing provide reviews.) The show is very well made.

(Unfortunately, the American dubbing once again follows the annoying trend of having characters from all over the world played by Americans who all have the same regional accent. This was incredibly annoying in G Gundam (in which mecha drivers from all over the world contend in a tournament while representing their home countries). It's not less annoying here. The British guy? The French woman? Same accent. Except for the black guys, who are played by black people so they sound black. Russians and Chinese folks have less difference of accent than black people. Uh huh. And never mind that the black characters aren't from America; they will speak with the standard accepted African-American accent, because otherwise they wouldn't be properly black. *rolls eyes* I admit that cretinously cheesy accents are worse than no accents at all, but when you've got a team of nine people wearing identical outfits, I want accents! It worked for Star Trek, didn't it?)

Anyway, back to the Christmas episode, which aired last night. The female cyborg, whose real name is Francoise, goes home to Paris for Christmas for a day. Like all the cyborgs, her family is all dead, and she was cryogenically frozen for years after she was stolen away by the terrorists of Black Ghost to be made a cyborg. So she wanders Paris pursued by her memories. She particularly remembers her brother Jean-Paul, who apparently was killed doing aerobatics, and her best friend Natalie, who made her promise never to stop ballet dancing. But of course Francoise can no longer dance; she's in a war for survival against Black Ghost. But she can't help remembering her old love of dancing, as symbolized by an old movie of The Red Shoes.

At this point, things get surreal. Francoise is apparently captured by Black Ghost and a hallucination-causing chip implanted on her neck. One hallucination puts her in front of Notre Dame, mysteriously empty on Christmas Eve, and has her attacked by gargoyles that morph back and forth into her friends and family, all insisting that she dance. The idea seems to be that when her teammates come to pick her up, she'll kill them while caught in the illusion. But while Francoise dances on and on in her red shoes, not realizing she's dancing on the crumbling balcony of an abandoned church, Cyborg 009 is led to her by a man in a biplane -- her dead brother Jean-Paul. When Cyborg 009 manages to get Francoise out of her trance without getting killed or letting her fall through the holes in the floor, fireworks go off over Paris and the biplane appears once more, only to fade away after Jean-Paul waves to Francoise.

But this isn't the weirdest Christmas episode I've seen. Not by a long shot.

(Btw, 009 spent his childhood in an orphanage run by a Catholic priest. The priest was murdered when he discovered that Black Ghost was faking adoptive families in order to kidnap children and use them in experiments.)

Monday, July 14, 2003

"At the rising of the sun and in the evening,/We will remember them"

This Washington Post story about two soldiers named Ikins made me cry like a baby.

It's hard for people who haven't done historical or genealogical research to understand just how deep a bond one can feel for the dead, or even for the living, if you're going through someone's papers. You feel as if you'd known the person all your life -- as if you'd been the person, or at least could see through their eyes.

I remember how odd the modern world used to look when I'd spent all day in the 1930's back in the archives of the museum where I interned one summer. When I went to see The Rocketeer, suddenly everything looked right. I'd never been any good at aircraft recognition; but because I'd been immersed in aviation for several months, I could recognize the models of airplanes as easily as I could tell apart Queen Anne's lace from milkweed. It was wonderful and fun. But then, I got down to the end of the papers. World War II came; and my subject was a Quaker. Then the war ended, and things got tighter and tighter, and she was dating the wrong boyfriend and seeing a shrink who prescribed huge amounts of Valium. She dutifully wrote down her dreams, and they were mostly nightmares. She suffered injuries in a plane crash (someone else was piloting, unfortunately for her) which left her an invalid. And then....

Well, some of her papers are somewhere else. Some of her papers were destroyed. I prefer to think that she died of an accidental overdose, and with what that quack was prescribing, it would have been easy. But I found myself grieving for a woman I'd never met as if she were my best friend in the world.

When her one surviving brother came to visit, I couldn't face him, frankly. My job had taken me as deep into his sister's and his family's business as any human can go who wasn't there to live through it. I don't know how biographers can bear to go through with such an intimate process in public.

And yet...we all have stories, and they all deserve to be told.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Old Irish Marriage Law

While we're watching Canada's leaders and the US' black-robed masters fiddle around with marriage law, it might be a good time to talk about the old Irish marriage laws. (These old laws are sometimes referred to as 'brehon law', since they were administered by brehons, a sort of lawyer/judge in one. The brehons, like the poets, went to school for many years to learn their art. The similarity behind poet and lawyer schools was no coincidence, since tradition tells us that laying down the law was originally one of the poets' jobs. It was taken from them by the kings when decisions began to rely too heavily on technicalities and obscure language, so that the people -- and the kings, for that matter -- could not understand them. Since justice was everybody's business and the kings' responsibility, this was obviously a breach of the social contract.)

First, one hears that there were trial marriages of a year and a day under brehon law, after which one could back out if one chose. However, I still haven't seen any specific references to this from the actual lawbooks. (Of which there are quite a few in existence.) The invaluable Sharon Krossa has looked into the situation in Scotland, and what she finds is that handfasting, ie, betrothal, is being confused with marriage. They weren't necessarily supposed to be having sex; but it happened. Note that if the couple did have sex and produced a kid, they were instantly considered married and any backing out was null and void.

Next, one hears a great deal about how enlightened medieval Irish marriage law was, and how women were equal partners, etc., etc. Well, in some ways it was better than medieval European law on the subject -- and more to the point of the arguers, more just than British law of the late nineteenth century. But the sad truth is that, in the brehon law, women were practically always acting not on their own, but through a 'guardian'. Before a woman was married, her 'guardian' was her father or the male head of her family; afterward, it was her husband or (should she be in conflict with her husband legally) a male member of her family. There were a few cases when women were responsible for their own actions (if her husband was landless or an outsider), but these were special cases, like panels of women chosen to investigate medically whether a man was really impotent or not. (Impotence was a legal reason for a marriage to be dissolved without the woman losing her brideprice.)

The reason a woman maintained the right to her own land and property in the marriage was, I'm afraid, because nobody really owned his or her own land and property. In the really old Irish law, all the land used to belong to the tuath (tribe); equal amounts of land (carefully graded to be equal amounts of arable land, marshland, grazing land, etc.) were given out by lottery every year. The real wealth in the old days was in cattle. Naturally, those with many head of cattle couldn't possibly maintain them on their own bits o' land, so those folks would give their cows to others who would raise them during the year. The really poor were something like sharecroppers of cows. Later, as agriculture took a little more hold, people did own their own land. But even then, you couldn't really sell things very easily. The land was held for those who would inherit it in the future, and selling land was discouraged. Cows were a bit easier. *grin*

The consequence of the Irish focus on marriage as a contract was that, even into the nineteenth century, many Irish marriages were arranged as a business deal between two families. Although women and men both had to freely consent, they often were freely consenting to someone they'd never met before...though just as often, they were marrying someone in the district whom they'd known and been courted by for a long time. However, as this interesting article on John Ford's The Quiet Man points out, the contract, as well as the property and wealth involved, were really symbolic of the union of families. So it wasn't just soulless money...but it was also rather constraining for individuals.

Anyway, there were either eight, nine or ten forms of marriage recognized under the law, as laid out in Cain Lanamna. (Irish lawbooks seem to have preserved both older and younger forms of relevant laws, so you sometimes get more than one version.) These were not all "real marriages"; some were considered marriage to give children of such unions a right to support and inheritance both from father and mother (as well as a place in the tuath). Each kind of marriage had different levels of rights for each partner. (This part of my post leans heavily on the helpful but pagan-biased article "Marriage, Separation and Divorce in Ancient Gaelic Culture", by Alix MacIntyre Hall, but it also leans on my memory of reading some of the same books she did. *grin*)

Lanamnas comthinchuir -- union of joint property in which both partners contribute moveable goods into the union. The woman in such a union is called a wife of joint authority. (This is the partnership thing alluded to above; neither person could make a valid contract without the consent of the other.) It seems to have been the most common sort, since this way neither person's kin feels like they're getting a bad deal, and the woman's honor price (the amount in cows you were worth if you were murdered, which also determined how much compensation you got for many other offenses against you or how much you paid for bad stuff you did to others) was not diminished.

Lanamnas mna for ferthinchur -- union of a woman on the man's property, into which the woman contributes little or nothing. The man could make contracts without the woman's consent, but he couldn't get rid of necessities like food, clothes, cows, and sheep without her, since that affected her support.

Lanamnas fir for bantinchur -- union of a man on the woman's property, into which the man contributes little or nothing. The woman could make contracts without the man's consent.

Lanamnas fir thathigtheo -- union of a man visiting, which signifies a less formal union in which the man visits the woman in her home with her kin's consent. (Even into the nineteenth century, there were many people who were old enough to marry who didn't have a separate home or resources to support a wife. This is a marriage of two people so poor they're both still living in their parents' basements, in other words.)

Lanamnas foxail: union in which a woman goes away openly with a man without the consent of her kin. Also, a union in which the woman allows herself to be abducted without the consent of her kin. (The second version was actually known to happen in Ireland occasionally in the nineteenth century. When two families have to agree, sometimes two kids get a tad bit impatient.)

Lanamnas taidi -- union in which a woman is secretly visited without knowledge of her kin. (And as we all know from the old ballads, it's never a good idea....)

Lanamnas eicne no sleithe -- a union or mating by forcible rape or stealth. (Stealth in this case also means trickery and deceit, or the use of drugs or magical potions.) Rape was a crime, as was sexual assault. As I pointed out earlier, this is a legal definition for purposes of inheritance and legal rights.

Lanamnas fir mir -- the union of two insane persons. (Insane or feebleminded persons were not responsible for their own actions under the law, and didn't really have much in the way of honor prices. Their kin were responsible for them, or whoever was with them when they did things.)

Here's another list of marriage forms. It's similar but sorted by degrees.

A first degree union takes place between partners of equal rank and property.

A second degree union in which a woman has less property than the man and is supported by him.

A third degree union in which a man has less property than the woman and has to agree to management of the woman's cattle and fields by someone from her family.

A fourth degree union is the marriage of the loved one in which no property rights changed hands, though children's rights are safeguarded.

A fifth degree union is the mutual consent of the man and woman to share their bodies, but live under separate roofs.

A sixth degree union in which a defeated enemy's wife is abducted. This marriage was valid only as long as the man could keep the woman with him.

A seventh degree union is called a soldier's marriage and is a temporary, primarily sexual union.

An eighth degree union occurs when a man seduces a woman through lying, deception or taking advantage of her intoxication.

A ninth degree union is a union by rape.

A tenth degree union occurs between feeble-minded or insane people.

Polygamy did occur. Without the consent of the primary wife, other wives or concubines could not be given the full status of the first kind of wife. (It was effectively taking another partner into the family business. Getting three people's consent to a contract would've been a real pain....)

All children were equally heirs and both parents responsible for a child's support, except in certain cases. If one parent died, the other parent took sole responsibility. If the mother was a known prostitute, only she was responsible for the child; it was the one of the costs of doing business. No professional satirist, male or female, could be held responsible for raising a child; this could have been because they were considered bad parents or, more likely, because an unwilling satirist would make life hell for everyone else, diminishing their honor prices in the bargain. The father (or his kin) was solely responsible for the child in cases of rape. A sane person who impregnated or bore a child to a feeble-minded person was solely responsible for the child. A child produced by a marriage between feeble-minded or insane people was the responsibility of the guardian who was legally responsible for allowing the marriage.

Divorce was contract-breaking and heavily penalized, unless there were grounds. If there were grounds, the party who provided them was fined and the fine given to the other partner. Grounds for a husband to divorce a wife and keep her brideprice included: unfaithfulness, persistent thieving, inducing abortion, bringing shame on his honor (and thus reducing not only his own honor price but his wife's), smothering a child, and being without milk through sickness. Wives could divorce and get their brideprice back for: infidelity, failure to provide support, spreading false stories about her, making a satire on her, being a big mouth ("it is not right for a man who talks of bed to be under the blankets"), claiming she wasn't actually a woman, impotence, too obese to fulfill his marital duties, homosexuality, sterility, her husband giving her a blow that caused a blemish, and finding out he was in holy orders. A marriage could be dissolved without penalty if one partner wanted to go off and join the clergy or go on a pilgrimage or very long visit; death also dissolved the marriage without fault. (Lawyers!) If the marriage was infertile and they didn't want to divorce, each had the right to separate temporarily and "seek a child" with someone else, but the biological mother and father would be responsible for the kid, and his/her inheritance would depend on them.

I'm not even going to go into the brideprice/dowry stuff. There were four different kinds, for goodness' sake!

The thing about Irish marriage law was that it tended to protect the rights of the tuath, one's kindred, and one's children over the actual persons getting married. It was just in its fashion, but it certainly wasn't easy and simple. Now, the Irish liked things complicated...but then, they had a lot of long winters back then and law was a spectator sport. We have other things to do with our time. So maybe we ought to be a bit cautious about experimenting, unless we really want to be sitting around asking each other what kind of marriage Alice and Bob have and in what degree.

If You Don't Like Your Right Hand, Cut It Off?

Envoy Magazine had a link to this MSNBC story about people who long to amputate their own healthy limbs. Not in the X-Files sense, either, though that's probably part of it.

(For the uninitiated, in the episode "Quagmire" by Kim Newton, Mulder and Scully's boat sinks while they're investigating an alleged monster in a Georgia lake. They get stuck on a rock talking about the death of Scully's dog Queequeg and the obvious parallels between Moby Dick and their lives. Scully tells Mulder he is Ahab, and Mulder replies, "You know, it's interesting you should say that, because I've always wanted a pegleg. It's a boyhood thing I never grew out of. Now I'm not being flippant. I mean, I've given this a lot of thought. If you have a pegleg or hooks for hands you know maybe it's enough to simply carry on living, bravely facing life with your disabilities. It's heroic just to survive. But without these things you're actually expected to make something of your life, achieve something -- earn a raise, wear a necktie. So, if anything, I'm the antithesis of Ahab, because if I did have a pegleg, I'd quite possibly be more happy and more content, and not feel the need to chase after these creatures of the unknown.")

The interesting thing is that this documentary treats these amputee wannabees with such total lack of judgmentalism or judgment. Couldn't your average five-year-old see that cutting off a healthy arm or leg is a crazy thing to do? Is it not glaringly obvious that these people need help not with getting amputations, but with resisting their impulses and learning to love their own bodies and selves? But nobody sees this. It's their own choice and they should be allowed to do what they want, yupyupyup. Most disturbingly, supposedly sane surgeons are willing to forget the basic principle of their profession ("First, do no harm.") and help these folks with their sick desires. Nobody seems to mention what happens when someone still feels bad after the first elective amputation. (I'm pretty confident Mulder would feel he wasn't a good enough amputee....)

I don't say this without some understanding. At least these folks only want to obliterate a limb. I, like many people, have struggled since childhood with the longing to kill myself. I've thought about different ways to do it, found good reasons for it, yearned for oblivion to get away from all this. But I've never done anything about it, and I try not to think about it. I know very well that there are places on the Web and in real life where I could have my "choice" validated by supposedly reputable psychologists and doctors, who would be entirely willing to help me leave this life. (Some of them wouldn't even make me pay for it.) But you know, I also have a small dose of common sense (and a large dose of religion) that tells me suicide is not the way.

More to the point at hand, I also have friends or readers who, if I was sitting here spouting off about killing myself being great, would be quick to persuade me against suicide or take steps to stop me and make me better. The filmmaker is not interested in doing anything but handing amputee wannabees the bone saw. (I think Jesus had something to say about false shepherds leading people astray, and it doesn't just apply to clergy....)


But in the end, we cannot always rely on others to tell us when we're on crack, drinking the Kool-Aid, or acting like idiots. We do have free will. We are responsible for looking after ourselves. Unless these poor folks really are beyond distinguishing right from wrong on this, they should be able to see that this is a stupid, crazy thing to do. (Even if the total lack of opposition to their plans makes them think even more that they were right about hating their own bodies, since everybody seems to agree the limbs should go.)

The truth is (oh, here comes an insight never reached before in the history of the human race!) that sometimes we desire to do things that are bad for us, just as sometimes we desire to do bad things to others. The correct, healthy thing to do in these cases is to resist that desire, not give into it in the vain hope of satisfaction. Throwing ourselves to our own wolves is nothing but self-betrayal.

If we believe in the individual, in human rights, in protecting the weak from hatred and prejudice, and in the dignity of all human beings, we must logically protect even our own weak selves from ourselves by resisting the temptation to hurt ourselves or do things that violate our own human dignity. If we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we must love ourselves at least a little. Enough not to give consent to doing things to ourselves that would get somebody else thrown in prison. Enough to say no to the darkness of our own hearts.